Solar Park Powering Astronomical Observatory In Chile’s Atacama Desert
A solar plant with a capacity of 9 megawatts has now been completed at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory. The PV installation is also intended to power the world’s largest telescope, which is currently being built at the site.
The first of the two facilities is designed to meet the current and future energy requirements of the observatory, when the greatest energy demand is generated by the cooling systems of the many telescopes in operation there, including the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which is currently Europe’s most advanced optical and near-infrared operational telescope. The second installation is sized to meet the full power demand of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is presently under construction and will ultimately be the world’s largest optical telescope with a main mirror diameter of 39 meters.
The European Extremely Large Telescope is supposed to be operational by the end of this decade, and because it should discover planets comparable to Earth orbiting other stars, it will revolutionize astronomy. It might even end up being the first instrument ever developed to discover signs of life outside our solar system.
The facility includes 18,565 bifacial panels perched on trackers and covering 7.2 hectares of land with a plant factor of 37%. It required 9 months to build and a total investment of $10 million to get the job done.
Earth-like planets around other stars are difficult to find because they are very small and faint compared to their host stars. The ELT will have a collecting area that is nearly 10 times larger than that of any other telescope currently in operation. This will allow it to collect enough light to directly image and study these planets in detail. The ELT might also be able to directly image the atmospheres of these planets and, through spectroscopy, search for gases that could be indicative of life.
The power generated by the solar facility will help make all of this possible, and that’s really cool because it wouldn’t make sense to destroy our planet while looking for other planets in the cosmos.
Chile has become a world leader in astronomy in recent years, hosting not only the Paranal Observatory, but also the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).
The region where these observatories are located was chosen for its high altitude, low humidity, and stable atmospheric conditions, which minimize the amount of water vapor and dust in the air and produce some of the clearest night skies on Earth.
The new solar plant at Paranal is part of ESO’s commitment to running its facilities using only renewable energy. The organization plans to have all its power needs met by renewables by 2025.
This is a great example of how solar power can be used to power all sorts of operations in remote locations. We hope to see more and more stories like this in the future!
Featured image by the European Space Agency.
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